By Lynn Cruz

Line at a Havana bus terminal.

HAVANA TIMES – I have always heard that substitution is a characteristic of underdevelopment. I am more aware of this condition right here in Cuba than I normally am. But beyond masks not being in shortage – they simply don’t exist -, I want to talk about the mutation of the State into a corporation.

While Coronavirus rapidly swept across Europe, here, public officials were promoting the island as a safe destination for tourists. Back in December 2019, we were watching from afar how the stench of death took over Wuhan, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak in China.

Desperation, cynicism or “political schizophrenia”? Is there anyone sane left in the Central Committee? Or are they all on a medical prescription? These were some of the questions that came to my mind when I saw Barbara Cruz’s reaction, the Marketing Director of the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

Cruz at least had a bit of decency when she didn’t hide a sneer, which wasn’t very convincing at that time: “If tourists want to come…!” The outcome? Holidaymakers are in quarantine at the Hotel Playa Doradas, others are stranded at airports, or have had to flee the “Communist paradise” with radioactivity in the air.

The sad news today is that there isn’t anywhere left to run away from this drama. I have read so much about it and seen countless videos. As this is a completely unprecedented situation, I’m not dismissing anything I see, then research and look into, so that I can try and get as close to the truth as I can.

There is talk about chemical weapons, a conspiracy, an economic war between the empires, but the truth is we still haven’t confirmed whether somebody ate a bat with COVID-19. We know that this is the host of the pandemic, but we don’t know the exact origin of this nightmare.

Cuban officials trying to generate awareness about using masks.

Yesterday, I read an article by one of the brightest thinkers of our time, Yuval Harari from Israel: “Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation.” He warns that decisions being made now will determine what our lives are in the future for many years.

Harari notes the risk of adopting biometric monitoring devices which will be used beyond the current emergency and will allow governments and corporations to control our lives. He harshly criticized US president Donald Trump for making unilateral decisions, which make it difficult for the world to take collective action not only in the fight against the virus, but also to mitigate the damage it will have on the global economy.

In reality, nothing will ever go back to the way it was before this experience. The worst thing for me is having to accept the fragility of political systems, right in front of our eyes. One of the things that has hit me the most has been the fact that Chinese government didn’t warn the rest of us about just how quickly the virus was spreading, so that other countries were aware and could decide to close borders, declaring national quarantine a lot earlier. Xi JinPing and his silence are a threat to the human race, quite frankly.

Meanwhile, Putin, the leader of another superpower, is only thinking about his reelection so he is refusing to see the signs that Russia will soon fall victim to a health crisis. It feels like I’m writing a science fiction novel right now. “The Last of Us” video game seems to be the news today, instead of an alternative reality.

It’s said that there aren’t any mentally ill during times of war because that comes afterwards. Right now, it’s very basic. We’re all just fighting to live. There isn’t time to sit around and mope. Our physical wellbeing is on the table, and that’s enough.

President Miguel Diaz Canel

While our new reality is turning our lives upside down, what will happen to poor countries like our own? It’s as if we don’t count for anything. Success will be had elsewhere. We are invisible, Cuba is only important because we dared to drown in the COVID-19 brought by a British cruise ship.

Or, the Caribbean island under the US blockade is so powerful that it can send doctors to Italy to help it fight the critical situation there. It doesn’t minimize the tragedy elsewhere, but what happens in Cuba promises to be chaotic.

What political intelligence Fidel Castro had! Which he passed on to his nephews and nieces, children, brothers/sisters-in-law, siblings of the spouses of his brothers and sisters, and all of his soldiers. The thing they’ll never understand though, is the dear price that the Cuban people pay so that we can make news.  

The media war has begun, blame is being thrown around for the pandemic, but there is a lack of political willingness that Harari proposes to provide a solution to a problem that affects us all.

So, I have no other choice but to search among my rags for bits of fabric that I can use, I try and find the positive of my masks, made with recycled materials. I don’t run the risk of them running out at the market either. I’m lucky I have a sewing machine, but what about all those Cubans who don’t?

Lynn Cruz

It's not art that imitates life, its life that imitates art," said Oscar Wilde. And art always goes a step further. I am an actress and writer. For me, art, especially writing, is a way of exorcising demons. It is something intimate. However, I decided to write journalism because I realized that I did not exist. In Cuba, only the people authorized by the government have the right to express themselves publicly. Havana Times is an example of coexistence within a democracy and since I consider myself a democrat, my dream is to integrate this publication’s philosophy into the reality of my country.

10 thoughts on “COVID-19 Without Masks in Havana

  • April 3, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    In Asian countries everyone now wears a mask when they go out. Please listen to South Korea’s 30 year infectious disease doctor YouTube interview. He is the media spokesperson and provides updates to So Korean citizens. After multiple pandemics, So Korea’s citizens are provided N95 masks and instructions on how to wear them. Along with social distancing, washing hands and not touching your face they wear masks. Leaders there say that all these measures combined, has helped to contain the spread of the virus, and they are #1 at containing this virus. In the U.S. they can’t tell people to wear a mask because we don’t have ample supply plus the ones we have must be given to health care professionals. Obviously a scarf or bandana is not going to offer you the protection of an N95 mask. I follow the precautions and always wear a mask when I go out. Praying for my Cuban friends – may God bless you and protect you.

  • April 1, 2020 at 12:17 am

    The photograph of “a Havana bus terminal” is interesting, because it is only a terminal for the Viazul coaches (just across the road from the zoo) and few Cubans can afford them, about 98% of passengers being tourists. I wonder who the people are in the picture?

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